No story of northeast India is complete without the story of its vividness and the inherent resilient power of the youth. The young people of the region between the ages of 16 and 25 constitute an estimated staggering 7 million people. Therefore, by their sheer number the young people in the seven northeastern states are a mighty force. Insurgency is definitely a menace and a malignant ambience of ethnic and inter-tribal clashes has surfaced across the region. But the reality is often different and perhaps a better picture than the media portrayal.
“All is definitely not lost…The seven northeastern states including the likes of Nagaland and Mizoram that have tough terrains and history of legacy have really come up in more ways than one in developmental sphere, but we have miles to go,” says Khrito Angami, 24 something youth in Kohima in Nagaland.
The views are endorsed by many northeast watchers. “In just a few decades, a predominant home of tribal people still cherishing age old practices, the northeast region’s march has been spectacular in industrialising a primordial economy,” says the book The Talking Guns: North East India. But there have been demerits in pursuing the policies of development leading to youth unrest practically in all the states. “The emphasis on pyramid model of development has only helped a segment of the society and rooted the sense of alienation among the youth,” says Merry C Lotha, a retired government official in Nagaland.
Similar stories are told and retold in number of other states. In fact, in several states, the anti-India insurgency or what is fondly called ‘militancy’ has taken shape virtually due to absence of job avenues despite the local population having higher percentage of literacy and education graph. There are other inherent advantages but sadly again these have not been made use of adequately. People have higher education graph and have knowledge bank essentially in education. The tribal instinct leads them easily to work in groups and there is historical fact in the argument that gender interactions are spontaneous, smooth and result-oriented. People have skills both as individuals and also with ‘organisational ability’. Even the rustics among them have a social grace that can leave a stranger amazed.
in several states, the anti-India insurgency or what is fondly called ‘militancy’ has taken shape virtually due to absence of job avenues
But the youth are not only at a crossroads, but also at times more than puzzled and thus frustrated. However, the faster pace of physical development and easy flow of money due to one reason or the other has rather made people a confused lot. The global changes around have rudely shaken the communities and the social scientists often complain that hard laborious people have started taking easy ‘shelter’ in easy way of life and corruption.
Long ago, about 25 years back, it was not without good reason a senior journalist from Calcutta (now Kolkata) on a visit to the region had said, in northeastern states money is given on earth (or this life) for works done in heaven –the past life.
There came in local people’s ‘fear’ about the outsiders – people from other states. It is in this context, the book The Talking Guns… says the parochialism prevailed and also fuelled taking the younger generation in its web.
“With the unemployment figure swelling and various bottlenecks in infrastructure prevailing, once the issue of insecurity and outsiders’ dominance caught people’s imagination, the primary element of reasoning between right and wrong was overshadowed,” says the book. Some of these menaces hit youths in the region in 1970s and 1980s and has still stuck in many ways though the players have changed. Most youth and student bodies are actually seen as ‘stepping stones’ to successful political careers for a host of regional leaders.
“There is nothing wrong in yesterday’s youth leaders turning into legislators and chief ministers today. The problem is with the manner selfish agenda is pushed and also that the hate politics has surfaced. Youths in northeast were more misused than they were at a crossroads – as we often say. Unfortunately, the predicament of younger generation still prevails,” says a practising politician in northeast – who once had begun his activism as a promising leader of the All Assam Students’ Union.
in tripura Local politicians say in the absence of industry and private players, the only job available was of the government school teachers
Obviously the candid reference is to the so-called ‘youth politics’ and a series of movements which have ironically failed to achieve the real purpose they were meant for.
In this context, many observers cite the instances of Assam and the movement of the students and also the ULFA, the militant group. “Assam has been bleeding actually… far from transforming Assam into an ideal modern state, ULFA has actually brought another round of agony,” says Guwahatibased social worker Ratna Gupta.
Perhaps the same yardstick would applyto the job, unemployment and social unrest scenes in other states also.
Some figures show the dropout rates from Class VIII and beyond as of 1999 was around – 77 per cent in Meghalaya, 69 per cent in Assam, 65 per cent in Mizoram and 40 percent in Nagaland.
There are also other related issues, while there is unwillingness to do hard labour even for private sectors, people have developed dislike for menial jobs and thus the pressure is on state governments to create jobs within government role. This has become near impossible.
In fact, Tripura state – long ruled by the CPM, offers unique case study on this. Local politicians say in the absence of industry and private players, the only job available was of the government school teachers.
“Even Master’sdegree holders made beeline for the jobs. As a result there was a big scam.
Underqualified people were appointed and as many as 10,023 primary and high school teachers lost their jobs when the matter went to court. This is the paradox,” Sipra Das, a BJP woman leader in Kamalpur town of Tripura told this magazine.
Hence, the overall scenario suggests the youths need jobs and better outlets to share their ideas and make use of their potentials.
The BJP made optimum use of this prevailing sentiment in Tripura. Prime Minister NarendraModi, during election campaign, told Tripura voters they need to replace Manik Sarkar by a new HIRA. Modi did not forget to decode the new terminology –“H stands for highway, I stands for I-way (digital connectivity), R stands for Roadway and A stands for Airways”.
At the national level, Union government sources say in order to encourage entrepreneurship, a series of incentives has been announced.
According to Union minister Jitendra Singh, ‘Start-up India, Stand-up India’ plans have been announced with the provision of two years of tax-free facility and three months’ exit period.
“There is yet another added incentive in the form of a “Venture” fund for new entrepreneurs so as to provide them relief from financial liabilities. This will not only boost employability and revenue in the region, but would also offer an incentive and thus attract youth from the other parts of the country to participate in the development of the northeastern states,” he says.
Obviously from the youth point of view, the ball will now be in the courts of two young chief ministers – Biplab Kumar Deb (48) in Tripura and Conrad Sangma (much younger at 40) in Meghalaya. “If you ask me, both these chief ministers ought to deliver. But scepticism haunts us as politics in the past has spoiled youngsters among politicians in Assam,” says Delhi-based Albert Nongrum, a mass communication student from Meghalaya.
Many also say – as for northeast youth –some of the social taboos ought to be fought still. In tribal-dominated states like Nagaland and Mizoram where social respectability of rural and tribal women is much higher than their counterparts elsewhere, limited access to assets punctuated with lack of bargaining power create some inherent economic disadvantages for women.
It remains another puzzle that in states like Nagaland and Mizoram till date, any woman legislator has hardly been elected.
A full-fledged state since 1963, Nagaland has yet to elect a woman to its legislative assembly. Mizoram got statehood in 1986, but has since elected only two women to its legislature.
“We Nagas are known for our progressive approach. As a society we have a high literacy rate and English education. Yet, the sociopolitical fabric favours men over women,”
says Thomas Ngullie, a former information minister.
Aizawl-based social worker R Remruata adds another anecdote. “The social opposition to women getting an upper hand is so vocal that in 2011 the Congress-ruled Mizoram government had opposed the Food Security Bill that sought to make woman the head of the family in the ration cards.”
The story of women assertion vis-a-vis civic body had actually plunged the state of Nagaland into turmoil and violence and Chief Minister T R Zeliang had to quit at one point of time.